See the Tabbed Pages for links to video tutorials, and a linked list of post titles grouped by topic.

This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

Each post will begin with a capsule summary. It will then proceed with captioned sections to amplify and justify the statements and conclusions of the summary. I'll present images and tables where helpful to develop a point, since "a picture is worth a thousand words".

Friday, April 28, 2017

Sea Level Rise, Due to Human Activity, Imperils Many


Summary. This post discusses three newspaper articles concerning global warming-induced sea level rise, which all appeared in a one-week period about the third week of April, 2017.

Sea level rise is inexorable, already irreversibly “baked in” to the planet’s climate, because melting of ice in the summer season is not restored by new snow and ice in the winter, and because the melted water flows away into the ocean.
Sea level rise is already causing human societal and economic damage around the world.  It will continue unabated, and likely worsen, in future centuries.  To minimize these harms, the world has to minimize greenhouse gas emissions to near zero as soon as possible.  This process would be significantly advanced by adhering to the Paris climate agreement. 
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The Washington Post reported on April 26, 2017 that the rate of sea level rise now foreseen by scientists is considerably higher than published only four years ago by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Fifth Assessment Report.

The Post article reports that the projections are a collaborative effort among 90 scientists, which was subjected to peer review by 28 other scientists.  Climate models based on two scenarios for continued rates of emission of greenhouse gases to the year 2100 were used for the projections.  One is a moderately stringent policy limiting emission rates.  The second is a scenario based on continued unconstrained emission rates comparable to those that reflect today’s fuel use.  The results are shown in the following table, which also includes the 2013 IPCC projections for comparison.

Scenario
Predicted sea level rise by 2100 [2013 IPCC prediction]
Moderately stringent
At least 52 centimeters (1.7 feet) [32 centimeters (1 foot)]
Unconstrained
At least 74 centimeters (2.4 feet) [45 centimeters (1.5 feet)]

The updated estimates take into account the increased rate of melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and Antarctic ice shelves recently observed, and expansion of the liquid ocean due to its higher temperature, among other contributing sources.

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This article reports that Tasmania, the island south of the Australian mainland, is already suffering the ravages of sea level rise.  The shoreline is being eroded by rising seas, and trees are being uprooted and falling into the sea.  An abandoned shoreline coal mine is being filled in by the sea.  The article states “The ocean is rising in large part…because people the world over have burned so much coal, pumping planet-warming carbon dioxide into the air. Perhaps a new stone marker [referencing a seaside prisoners’ graveyard] ought to be planted above the eroding mine: Cause, Meet Effect.”  A Tasmanian ecologist stated, with some irony, “It’s a smoking gun for sea-level rise causing an acceleration of erosion.  And it’s coal! Mined for burning!”

The article summarizes manifestations of worsening global warming: “In country after country, managers of national parks and other historic sites are realizing that climate change, with its coastal flooding and erosion, rising temperatures and more intense rainstorms, represents a profound risk to the heritage they are trying to preserve.”  It mentions damage to the Statue of Liberty’s foundation by Hurricane Sandy, loss of most of the glaciers in America’s Glacier National Park, damage to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef due to rising ocean temperature (vindicating a 10-year old prediction), among many other examples.
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https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/20/magazine/how-singapore-is-creating-more-land-for-itself.html?_r=0













Singapore is an independent island city-nation just off the coast of the southern tip of Malaysia.  It is a thriving metropolis, whose economic base is commerce and the financial industry.  The article notes that Singapore has felt the limitations of its small land area for decades.  This has constrained the ways it can develop additional useful real estate as its fortunes continue to grow. 

In recent years this quandary has been worsened by the encroachment of rising sea levels.  Singapore fortunately has the financial resources artificially to expand its land area by robbing it from the sea.  The image above shows one example.  The city sinks massive ocean-resistant caissons (seen above from the air) into the sea bed surrounding its natural land base, forming void rectangular enclosures.  It then imports huge quantities of sand, or of pulverized rock, and fills in the rectangles to provide new land area which, when completed, will form new surface area for development.  The new land is high enough to withstand sea level rise in the coming years.

The article contrasts the case of affluent Singapore with other, more impoverished, island “micro-nations” that are losing the battle against rising seas.  Solomon Islands is a Pacific Ocean nation on six major islands and several hundred smaller islands, with an area of 11,000 sq. mi.  The article notes that five small islands have already disappeared under rising seas.  Kiribati has bought 6,000 acres of land 1,000 miles away in Fiji for resettlement of its people.  The Maldives is considering a similar purchase in Australia.  Some of the people living on the island micro-nations of Tuvulu, the Marshall Islands and Nauru have already departed.

Discussion

Newspaper reports on sea level rise.  The examples cited in the articles above pinpoint the flooding, and consequent damages, to be expected along coastlines all over the world as sea levels continue rising.  Man-made global warming, the main cause for the rising seas, is unequivocally due to humanity’s burning of carbon-containing fuels for energy, emitting the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  (Other man-made greenhouse gases also contribute to warming.) 
The fundamental problem is that carbon dioxide remains resident in the atmosphere for centuries because there are no natural processes that remove it at the speed and on the massive scale needed to balance the excess amounts that we produce.  As a result, warming will continue worsening until emissions are effectively minimized to near zero. 

Polar melting.  As noted in the Summary, the long-term average temperature of air in contact with the Greenland ice sheet and of ocean water in contact with the Antarctic ice shelves is already warm enough to lead to net melting of these ice reservoirs, raising global sea levels.  We cannot go back to a planetary regime having a lower temperature (which might slow or stop melting of the ice) because of the permanence of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Consequently the sea level is projected to increase for centuries.  Projected higher temperatures will worsen this trend.
The “social cost of carbon” is an economic term for a framework that attempts to place direct financial costs, as well as indirect societal costs, on the consequences of carbon dioxide-induced global warming.  This is necessary because direct costs for the use of carbon-containing fossil fuels stop at the point of sale of the fuel.  The costs incurred as consequences of the resulting global warming are not reckoned in the sale price. 

This may be contrasted, for example, by the costs that residents bear to have their household waste removed by tax-supported services, or the charges that they pay for treatment of their waste water.  The separate expense of handling the waste is directly borne by property owners and/or municipal taxpayers.  No analogous cost for waste treatment is built into the cost structures of fossil fuel-derived energy use.  This is the accounting that enters into pricing the social cost of carbon.
Contributions to the social cost of carbon are seen in the journal snippets presented here.  Singapore is fortunate in having the resources to protect itself from sea level encroachment.  The other oceanic island micro-nations mentioned here do not; they face existential threats in the near future. 

In the U. S., coastal communities in Miami and south Florida, as well as Norfolk, Virginia, now suffer fair weather flooding at high tide, due to higher sea levels, that had not occurred previously.  Their cost of carbon lies in the extensive, expensive barriers they are forced to put in place to minimize the flooding.  Likewise, the New York region is planning to construct similar barriers as a defense against the possibility that future storm surges similar to that of Hurricane Sandy could occur.  All these projects were not foreseen in earlier budgeting processes.  The additional expenses for them become unexpected taxpayer burdens at the state and local levels.  They clearly represent social costs of carbon that are not included in the prices paid for fossil fuels at the time of use.
Conclusion

Three simultaneously published newspaper articles have pointed out the present and future harms to humanity due to sea level rise.  The rising level is due to humanity’s burning of fossil fuels, worsening the carbon dioxide-induced greenhouse effect and producing warmer global average temperatures that melt polar ice caps.
We must work together to minimize future increases in the carbon dioxide burden of the atmosphere in order to slow continued sea level rise.  (The world’s temperature is already too high to stop it outright.)  The Paris climate agreement of 2015 is a good start on this path.  All nations of the world should embrace its provisions, and improve the emission limits it has created.  Rejecting the agreement would be at humanity’s peril.

© 2017 Henry Auer
 

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Centennial Celebration of the Paris Agreement Arrives 99 Years Early

Early in 2016, shortly after the United Nations-sponsored meeting that culminated in the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, this writer posted a fable characterizing a fictional centennial commemoration of the 2015 Agreement in a scenario in which use of fossil fuels had continued unabated during that 100-year interval.  The fable is reproduced below:

The Centennial Commemoration of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement

A Fable

It was December 2115, the hundredth anniversary of the agreement to a climate treaty reached among all the members of the United Nations, in Paris.  The members of the Petrex extended family gathered to mark the occasion.  By that time, three to four generations after the event, the clan had grown considerably, and had established for itself a fully self-sufficient environment inside its terradome.  For the occasion the space was opulently fitted out with an artificial lake in which were moored several model oil rigs.  The pipe linking the rigs to shore ended in an internally illuminated fountain gurgling champagne.  Scattered about the artificially-turfed land areas were several working model oil wells erected in mud fields of black caviar, pumping dark chocolate and coffee liqueurs, and other reminders of the black gold that had started the Petrex fortune, more than one hundred years earlier.

Back then, the clan founder, Malvolio Petrex, chairman and chief executive officer of the largest oil company at the time, had come to realize the inconsistencies of his, and his company’s, position.  They were, at one and the same time, using all their financial power and political influence to perpetuate, indeed to expand, the use of the oil they extracted from the ground, while correctly realizing that their exploitative activities were worsening the global warming already well under way.  After all, the Paris agreement itself was reached in response to expert scientific findings, reported for at least the preceding twenty years, that burning oil and other fossil fuels, such as those his company and others were pulling from the ground, added irreversibly to the atmospheric burden of carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas.

Malvolio Petrex knew that global warming was going to get much worse in the coming years, because his company and others were continuing to produce fossil fuels at ever-increasing rates of growth, year after year.  After all, more and more energy was needed to fuel the demands of economies all over the world, being used to expand their economies and raise the poorest peoples of the world out of poverty. 

He wasn’t too worried about his own welfare, though.  Thanks to his immeasurable wealth, he already had peppered several secure estates around the world, in various climatic and ecological settings.  But as any other dynastic figure that we may encounter throughout history, he was concerned about the wellbeing of his progeny.  He knew that the travesties his business activities were creating would worsen after he was gone, impacting the lives and indeed the safety of his scions.  He understood that worsening warming would lead to economic and political unrest among the impoverished and others less well off than he because they would be suffering the harmful effects of warming: flooding in some regions; droughts, wildfires and famine in others; and inexorable sea level rise driving millions around the world from their traditional homes and livelihoods.

And so he embarked on a program to develop self-contained environments for himself and his family.  The environments would insulate his family from the unpleasantness of dealing with the effects of climate change by keeping the open atmosphere out, and the family’s living quarters and areas for amusing themselves in.  The first models were installed on the grounds of his existing estates, and were relatively modest. 

Now, one hundred years later, after many rounds of development and improvement, this Petrex estate was enveloped in its own protective terradome.  It was a large, fully enclosed environment covering almost one square mile, incorporating the estate’s mansion, its recreational areas, and fields producing much of its food needs.  The terradome insulated the estate from the worst “weird” climate and weather events brought on by the extreme warming that the world had attained by then, as well as keeping a portion of the sun’s warming light from penetrating to the land within it.  The Petrex family had practically no need to travel outside the terradome; it was almost entirely self-sufficient.

As a result, they were insulated as well from the harms and damages induced by the warmer climate that most of the peoples of the world were suffering.  Or maybe they knew and, just like Malvolio Petrex a hundred years earlier, chose to ignore it.  The population at large was subjected to far worse conditions than Petrex’s world had experienced one hundred years earlier: debilitating heat waves and droughts, intense storms bringing on severe flooding, encroaching oceans because of the severe degree of sea level rise, all brought on by the excess global warming that burning fossil fuels induced. 

By the time of the centennial anniversary the opportunity for effective action to combat global warming had long passed.

 
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The fabled centennial celebration of the Paris Agreement has already arrived, 99 years early.  The newly elected U. S. President, Donald Trump, is a man whose wealth could well serve as a model for the patriarch Malvolio Petrex.  He shows his wealth at least partly by erecting palatial residences and developing exclusive golf courses around the globe. 

Mr. Trump has called global warming a hoax.  Now as president he is implementing policies and appointing people to important cabinet positions who share his sentiment.  From the outset, he is reversing important initiatives undertaken by his predecessor, who had set in motion important policies that curb emissions of greenhouse gases.   

Here is a partial list of President Trump’s actions and policy positions:

·        He appointed Scott Pruitt to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Instead of having an interest in protecting the environment, Mr. Pruitt is eliminating rules that preserve our natural world.  In his previous position as the Attorney General of Oklahoma, he repeatedly sued the EPA seeking to overturn its regulations that protect aspects of our environment, including emissions of greenhouse gases. Now he is the Administrator of that selfsame agency.  The Los Angeles Times writes “The Republican dogma of unrestrained economic exploitation drives the president and his EPA chief. As a result, climate science has become a heretical activity.”

·        Among fossil fuels coal emits the most carbon dioxide (per amount of heat obtained) when burned.  So its use should be limited as much as possible in order to reduce emissions.  But Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke ordered that a ban on mining coal on federal lands, put in place by former President Obama, be rescinded.  The order followed through on President Trump’s overall goal of increasing American energy independence.

·        PresidentTrump ordered a review of all policies deemed to interfere with enhancing America’s energy independence.  This includes directing Administrator Pruitt to reconsider the Clean Power Plan, an EPA regulation issued under President Obama that would produce significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power industry.

·        President Trump issued an order to review the program, issued by EPA and the Department of Transportation under President Obama, significantly increasing automobile Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards by 2025.  The review may lead to weakening the requirements or slowing the timeline for the CAFE regulation.

·        The budget proposal that President Trump outlined for Fiscal Year 2018 seriously cuts scientific research in many agencies of the U.S. government.  Concerning  activities related to curbing global warming, the proposal completely eliminates the Department of Energy’s Advance Research Projects Agency-Energy unit, reduces research support for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration by 52%, and cuts EPA research by 48% and National Aeronautics and Space Administration earth science research by 6%.  These agencies engage in essential research on the state of the planet’s climate and provide seed or venture funding for development of new technologies that lower greenhouse gas emissions.

President Trump, could easily serve as a model for Malvolio Petrex, since he can insulate himself from the ravages of intensified global warming.  His policies, to be implemented 99 years before the centennial of the Paris Climate Agreement, will have major immediate effects and indirect ramifications that worsen greenhouse gas emissions and lead to more severe harmful consequences of warming.  Yet we may imagine that, with the vast resources he controls, his children, grandchildren and further progeny can create environments for themselves that will protect them from harms and damages that global warming brings.  The same can be said for those he selected to implement his policies. 

But the peoples of the earth, considered at large, are not so lucky.  They can’t easily shield themselves from climatic harm.  They could well be defenseless victims of President Trump’s policies.  The climate framework that Mr. Trump is overthrowing, begun under President Obama and implemented worldwide with his leadership, could make significant progress to minimizing those risks. 

It’s not too late for the Trump Administration to reconsider, and rejoin the compact of the world’s nations to lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

      © 2017 Henry Auer

Thursday, March 9, 2017

EPA Administrator Pruitt Wrongly Dismisses Reality of Man-Made Warming

Summary: The Administrator of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, stated in a television interview that he does not agree that human activity is a prime contributor to global warming.
This statement is in direct contradiction to the well-established objective scientific reality that humanity’s burning of fossil fuels adds excess, long-lasting, burdens of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.  Since this gas exhibits the greenhouse effect, this excess gas contributes to raising the global average temperature, and brings on harmful extremes of weather and climate.
Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the U. S. National Climate Assessment, provide detailed support for such conclusions.  Climate scientists subscribe essentially unanimously to the reality of man-made global warming according to a search of the scientific literature.

Administrator Pruitt ignores these findings at great peril to the wellbeing of Americans, and indeed, of all humanity the world over.


The Administrator of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, in an interview on CNBC on March 9, 2017 stated he did not agree that carbon dioxide contributes importantly to global warming.  Here is this writer’s transcript from CNBC’s video of the interview:
Interviewer: “Do you believe that it’s been proven that carbon dioxide is the primary control knob for climate?”
Pruitt: “No I think that measuring …precision human activity [sic] on the climate is something very challenging to do and there is tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see …. [W]e need to continue the debate…..” (Emphasis added.)
The world’s climate scientists have shown conclusively in peer-reviewed publications that Administrator Pruitt improperly rejects the reality of man-made warming. 
·        Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important atmospheric greenhouse gas (a gas that traps heat leaving the surface of the earth and returns some of it to the surface.) 
 
·        CO2 is formed by burning fossil fuels; the excess CO2 released when humans use fossil fuels for energy has been accumulating in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began.

·        Most CO2 we add to the air stays in the atmosphere for centuries or longer.  So the fuels burned in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries released CO2 that’s still in the air today.  This is why man-made CO2 is such a problem.
 
·        A particular property of CO2 (carbon isotope ratios) measured over time shows categorically and irrefutably that the increasing amount of CO2 in the atmosphere originates from humans’ use of fossil fuels, and not from any other possible source.

·        For the last 800,000 years atmospheric CO2 has never exceeded 280 volumes per million volumes of air (parts per million, ppm).  Humanity’s burning of fossil fuels has now pushed that above 400 ppm.  The rate by which we are adding new CO2 is many-fold faster than at any period in the last 800,000 years.

·        Because of the greenhouse activity of CO2 the earth’s temperature has been increasing, following the same long-term trend as the increase in CO2.

·        Climate models show that the recent increase in global average temperature is only accounted for when the increase in excess man-made CO2 is included in the models.  Using CO2 only from natural physical sources does not reproduce observed global temperatures.

·        Annual global average surface temperatures in 2014, 2015 and 2016, each in turn, reached record highs never seen in the historical record (beginning 1880).

·        Increasing numbers of extreme weather and climatic events have been directly attributed to worsening global warming, or their effects made worse from warming.

Contrary to Administrator Pruitt’s claim, there is no debate over the human cause of global warming.  The United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports (ARs) and the U. S. Third National Climate Assessment (NCA) present the unambiguous conclusions of climate scientists worldwide that global warming is man-made.  In a survey of peer-reviewed journal articles on climate change, the authors are essentially completely unanimous in this conclusion.
The IPCC has issued five Assessment Reports (ARs) at 5 to 7 year intervals; the Fifth Assessment Report (5AR) was released in 2013-14 in three parts. Each part is prepared by hundreds of eminent climate scientists selected from among all member nations of the U. N.  
For example, for the first part of AR5, a first draft involved 659 experts and considered 21,400 comments by external reviewers; the second draft involved 800 experts different from the first group and 26 governments, and considered 31,422 comments. Only then was the final product released, approved by the scientists and by member governments. For this reason, 5AR meets every reasonable standard for scientific rigor, objectivity and validity.  It represents a worldwide consensus on the current status of climate science, including projections of future effects as the world continues to warm.  Its validity cannot legitimately be challenged.
The NCA was issued May 6, 2014 as mandated under the Global Change Research Act of 1990 to “assist the nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change”.
The NCA was prepared under the supervision of a federal advisory committee whose members are drawn from thirteen departments and agencies substantively involved in an aspect of global change science or policy.  It was drafted by over 300 scientists and experts drawn from academic research settings, federal agencies and research facilities, state agencies, nongovernmental organizations, private consulting organizations, corporations and foreign research organizations.  They critically reviewed original research articles published in peer-reviewed journals, and other reports of comparable scientific validity.  A draft of the Assessment was reviewed by others in federal agencies, the academic community, the public, and the National Academy of Sciences.  To issue the final Assessment 4,000 comments submitted by the reviewers were taken into consideration.  There can be no reasonable basis for doubting or dismissing the impartiality, cogency and veracity of the NCA’s findings.
Virtually Complete Unanimity of Acceptance of Man-Made Global Warming.  James Lawrence Powell recently published an article (Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society 1–4, 2016; DOI:10.1177/0270467616634958) which found that during 2013 and 2014 only 0.0058% of authors of peer-reviewed journal articles rejected the reality of man-made global warming.  Of the almost 70,000 authors of those articles only 4 reached that conclusion, giving a ratio of 1:17,352.  
Powell writes “[t]he extent of the consensus among scientists on [man-made] global warming [(MGW)] has the potential to influence public opinion and the attitude of political leaders and thus matters greatly to society.  [The results developed here show] the consensus on [MGW] among publishing scientists is above 99.99%, verging on unanimity.” (Emphasis added.)
Contrary to Administrator Pruitt’s claim, there is strong agreement on the degree of impact arising from global warming.  Both AR5 and NCA present extended discussions of the harms and damages arising from the impacts of global warming, and the prospects for more severe damages in the future as warming worsens.
Conclusion.  Administrator Scott Pruitt is wrong in “not agree[ing] that [human activity, burning fossil fuels is] a primary contributor to … global warming”.  The global community of climate scientists whose research is published in peer-reviewed journals agree essentially unanimously that man-made global warming is real.  The Administrator may continue to make such assertions, but they are not founded in objective scientific reality.  The consequences for federal policy of maintaining such views are alarmingly fraught.
© 2017 Henry Auer

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Carbon Fee and Dividend Is Proposed by Conservative Economists


Background.  U. S. President Donald J. Trump has called global warming a hoax, and opposes policies that would combat its causes and effects.  He has assembled a cabinet whose members, as heads of departments that are relevant to this issue, hold opinions that are consistent with his.  They seek to reverse the policies of the Obama administration that mitigate global warming and its harms.

Carbon Fee and Dividend.  On February 8, 2017, three conservative economists who held high level positions in earlier Republican administrations published the op-ed “A Conservative Case for Climate Action” in the New York Times .  The authors are Martin S. Feldstein, formerly the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Ronald Reagan; Ted Halstead, the founder and chief executive of the Climate Leadership Council; and N. Gregory Mankiw, formerly the chairman under President George W. Bush. 

The op-ed is based on a more extensive paper made public the same day, by these writers and several other conservative or Republican economists.  Three other authors in this group, former Secretary of State under President George H. W. Bush, James A. Baker III;, former Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, George P. Shultz; and former secretary of the Treasury under President George Bush, Henry M. Paulson Jr. also discussed their plan.  They said that imposing an economy-wide tax on carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels is “a conservative climate solution” since it relies on free-market principles.

Importantly, and apparently in opposition to President Trump, the writers make clear their acceptance of “the very real dangers of global warming”.  They state that “this is the perfect time … to address the dangerous threat of climate change”, and support limiting emissions of the major greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).

Their goals are fourfold, to be achieved by simultaneously putting in place four measures in their “ideal climate policy”. 

1.    To reduce the rate of carbon emissions, the authors propose a tax on carbon, suggesting a level of $40/ton of emitted CO2 at the outset, and rising in successive years. The authors state this would send an economic signal both to consumers and to businesses to lower their use of carbon fuels.

2.    To help working class Americans the proceeds from collecting the tax would be distributed equally back to citizens as a quarterly dividend.  For example, in the first year, a family of four might receive $2,000.

3.    The plan would help promote economic expansion in the U. S.  It would protect international commerce by subsidizing exports to countries that don’t have similar policies, and placing tariffs on imports from such countries.  The higher carbon pricing would stimulate growth in renewable energy enterprises, and in energy efficiency, which provides growing job opportunities.

4.    The plan would provide regulatory certainty for businesses and investors, since it would eliminate the need for regulatory policies such as former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (which is currently under court challenge) to achieve reductions in annual emission rates.
 
Analysis

The authors cite U. S. Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis, Working Paper 115, January 2017, as concluding that the dividend would wind up benefiting the bottom 70% of taxpayers, or about 223 million residents. That dividend compensates for having paid the carbon tax.  The Working Paper estimates that during the first year the tax would add about $0.36 per gallon of gasoline, for example.  This increase pales by comparison to the gyrations of the retail price for gasoline during the past few years. 
The tax has the effect, at the instant of purchasing a carbon-based fuel, of discouraging excessive use of the fuel because of the higher price.  The dividend, on the other hand, has the effect of expanding spending power at a time considerably removed from the time of the restraint in purchasing.  Stimulation of spending will have a beneficial effect on the national economy, offsetting the loss of spending due to collecting the carbon tax at purchase time.

The authors also find, upon analysis, that the carbon tax and dividend, at the starting value of $40/ton of emissions, would reduce the carbon emissions rate to half the rate from all the regulation-based reduction programs put together by President Obama’s administration.

Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) is an organization whose principal goal has been to lobby Congress to enact a revenue-neutral plan, essentially identical to the one proposed by the authors of this op-ed.  CCL commissioned Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) to analyze the effects of the CCL carbon fee and dividend plan.  After running a model, REMI found that after 20 years of operation the program is predicted to provide a) a 50% reduction in the CO2 emission rate, b) about 2.8 million new jobs being created as a result of the stimulating effect of the dividend, and c) 230,000 fewer premature deaths among the population as a result of reductions in air pollution from disease-causing agents.

British Columbia, the Canadian province, has had a very similar regime in operation since 2008.  Instead of a direct dividend, British Columbia uses the revenue to abate other classes of taxation, including the corporate tax rate.  The effect broadly is comparable to that of a dividend, namely, reinjecting funds back into the provincial economy. 

The New York Times reported, on March 1, 2016 that the carbon tax rose from CA$10 in 2008 to CA$30 in 2012 (about US$22.20 in 2016), while emissions fell over that time from 5 to 15% even as there were minimal effects on overall economic activity.  The Times stated “a carbon tax is the most efficient, market-friendly instrument available in the quiver against climate change”.  The report also quoted Mary Polak, British Columbia’s environment minister, as saying the tax “performed better on all fronts than I think any of us expected”. 

Conclusion
Martin Feldstein James Baker and their colleagues have provided a useful and timely recommendation in their op-ed articles.  A carbon tax is far easier to administer than the other major mitigation regime, cap-and-trade (in force in California and proposed to the states as a possible measure under President Obama’s Clean Power Plan).  The dividend ensures that the overall effect of the carbon tax is revenue-neutral.  As seen from British Columbia’s experience, a carbon tax and dividend regime would clearly produce reductions in the rate of greenhouse gas emissions, and indirectly stimulate new enterprise creation, together with new jobs, in order to mitigate global warming and promote energy efficiency. 

It is time for President Trump and the conservative majorities in the U. S. Congress to recognize the reality of global warming and its dangers, and to enact meaningful federal legislation to minimize future emissions.

© 2017 Henry Auer

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Inquisitor Trump Might Delete U. S. Global Warming Data

Galileo Faced the Inquisition.  In 1633, the astronomer and physicist Galileo Galilei was summoned by the Catholic Church’s chief  Inquisitor, Father Vincenzo Maculano da Firenzuola, to begin his trial for heresy.  He faced the charge of promoting the notion, considered heretical by the Church, that the Earth revolves around the sun.  Church doctrine held that the universe was centered about the Earth, i.e., that the sun turned around our planet; this dogma was central to maintaining the religious authority of Church.  Even so, the earlier work of Copernicus and Kepler had already shown that the planets orbit the sun.

The Inquisition found that Galileo was “vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of [the] heresy…of having believed … the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world… and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world.”  His penalty included the “public edict [that his] book of Dialogues be prohibited, and [that] We condemn thee to the prison of this Holy Office….”

This history shows that the scientific results obtained by Galileo and his predecessors, which did not conform to the Church’s pre-ordained worldview, merited censorship of his work and his imprisonment.  He agreed not to promote his conclusions any longer, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

President Trump Erases Global Warming Web Pages.  Minutes after taking the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump’s White House expunged all references to global warming and climate change that his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, had included on the White House web site. 

This censorship of science-based policy by the new administration scarcely differs from the Inquisition’s banning of Galileo’s Dialogues.  It may presage the imposition of the pre-ordained worldview of Trump and his retinue which denies global warming, instead of adopting science-based policies to address this critical issue.  We may wonder whether members of the Trump administration acknowledge that the sun is at the center of our solar system.

The Washington Post reported on Dec. 13, 2016  that climate scientists fear that the Trump administration will intentionally oversee the loss of decades worth of data documenting the progression of global warming and climate change.  These data sets have been accumulated by U. S. government scientists, and others whose research is supported by the U. S. government.  They currently reside on government computers and servers.  An interview with meteorologist Eric Holthaus on NPR’s program “All Things Considered” on Dec. 14, 2016 speculated on how the loss of this data might transpire: “across-the-board” budget cuts in climate science that could result in government scientists having to make difficult decisions on which data to maintain, and which to allow to lapse.

The U. S. government’s data are robust repositories of climate information; the resources used to acquire them include satellites and ocean-based buoys.  The resulting information is freely available to scientists the world over pursuing climate research and to officials developing climate policy.  If these fears materialize, not only may existing data be lost, but the ambition to continue climate observation by the U. S. may wane under the Trump administration.  It may reason that pressure to adopt policies fighting warming may be weaker in the absence of new information supporting the need for action.  (Similar reasoning presumably underlies Congress’s failure to fund gun violence research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since 1997.)

In response to this potential threat nongovernmental climate scientists are volunteering to copy existing databases onto other servers to ensure their preservation.   

A different U. S. agency policy facilitates access to research data. The potential loss of government-sponsored climate data as a result of policies under the Trump administration stands in stark contrast to information policies in effect at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 2003.  The U.S. government determined that it was in the interests of the public and the life sciences community that research data underlying published articles, supported by NIH funding, be made available to others.  The goals of the policy are copied here:

Data sharing allows scientists to expedite the translation of research results into knowledge, products, and procedures to improve human health.
“There are many reasons to share data from NIH-supported studies. Sharing data reinforces open scientific inquiry, encourages diversity of analysis and opinion, promotes new research, makes possible the testing of new or alternative hypotheses and methods of analysis, supports studies on data collection methods and measurement, facilitates the education of new researchers, enables the exploration of topics not envisioned by the initial investigators, and permits the creation of new datasets when data from multiple sources are combined.
“In NIH's view, all data should be considered for data sharing. Data should be made as widely and freely available as possible while safeguarding [privacy and confidentiality].” (Emphasis in original).

In summary, data obtained by NIH-supported research must be made public in order to promote scientific, technological and medical progress, i.e., for the public welfare. 

Climate data must be preserved.  The same principles apply to climate data now held on government computers and servers.  Public welfare is promoted by safeguarding existing climate data, and by making that information freely available to researchers worldwide. 

The incoming administration does not have the right to oversee loss of these climate databases. The information was gathered by federal scientists working in U. S. government agencies, which are supported by us, the taxpaying public. The data belong to us.  The potential loss of this information would constitute a harm to our welfare, since it would impede research on the causes and effects of global warming, to our detriment. 

President Trump and members of his administration are behaving like present-day climate inquisitors.  They do not accept the incontrovertible scientific evidence that global warming is happening and that human activity is largely responsible.  President Trump has called global warming a Chinese hoax, and has threatened to withdraw from the United Nations-sponsored climate accord reached in Paris in 2015.  Scott Pruitt, the designated administrator of the Environmental Protection Administration, has repeatedly sued the very agency he has now been nominated to lead while serving as Oklahoma’s Attorney General.   Secretary-designate of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has taken many anti-environmental positions in his earlier career.  The Economist (Jan. 21, 2017; p. 15) has classified other cabinet designees as “climate-change sceptics”: Vice President Mike Pence; Chief of Staff Reince Priebus; Rex Tillerson, Secretary-designate of State (disagreeing that climate change posed a national security risk); Rick Perry, Secretary-designate of Energy; Mike Pompeo, Director-designate of the Central Intelligence Agency; Steve Bannon, Chief strategist; and still others. 

The would-be inquisitors of the Trump administration cannot be permitted to destroy the public’s climate information.  Rather, the government should be protecting and using it beneficially to promulgate meaningful climate policies.
© 2017 Henry Auer